WASHINGTON » Donald Trump’s announcement that he would skip the next Republican presidential debate hosted by Fox News roiled fellow Republicans five days before the Iowa caucuses and left the hosts scrambling.
“He’s not afraid to take a question,” Trump’s campaign manager Corey Lewandowski said this morning on ABC’s “Good Morning America.” “The issue is an issue of fairness.”
While Lewandowski repeatedly accused the network of bias and said moderator Megyn Kelly is “obsessed” with Trump, Fox said the Trump campaign threatened Kelly during negotiations. The network also released a sarcastic statement after Trump’s decision suggesting the real-estate mogul wouldn’t be able to handle world leaders like Vladimir Putin who might also treat him “unfairly.”
The debate is scheduled to be the last major Republican forum before the first-in-the-nation caucuses for both parties in Iowa on Feb. 1. The infighting between Republicans, frontrunner Trump and the leading news network for conservative politics over debates runs counter to the attempts by the party’s leaders to create a more orderly nominating process than the 2012 primaries. Trump’s choice to forgo the debate was condemned by many Republicans and some of his rivals.
Former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani, who sought the Republican presidential nomination in 2008, urged Trump to reverse course because of that timing.
“You’re in a primary right now. Talk to the people that are going to vote in the primary,” Giuliani said today on CNN’s “New Day.” “So my advice to my friend Donald would be, surprise them, show up.”
Rivals of Trump also weighed in. Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, who has been battling with Trump for supremacy in the Iowa caucus, challenged him “to a one-on-one debate” on Twitter.
Jeb Bush, the former governor of Florida, wrote “Exactly” on Twitter when retweeting a statement from the conservative journalist Erick Erickson.
“So Donald Trump can’t handle tough questions from Megyn Kelly, but he’ll be able to handle Hillary Clinton. Hahahahahahahahahahahahahahahaha,” Erickson wrote.
Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus had worked to limit the number of debate and include conservative moderators in an attempt to help their party’s candidates in 2016.
An RNC spokesman suggested Republican leadership would not be getting involved.
“Obviously we would love all of the candidates to participate, but each campaign ultimately makes their own decision what’s in their best interest,” the spokesman, Sean Spicer said, according to a statement.
Trump continued to blast Fox News and Kelly in Twitter posts today, even as some observers wondered whether the tycoon, who often touts his willingness to walk away from negotiations to exact concessions, might decide to attend the debate after all.
“I refuse to call Megyn Kelly a bimbo, because that would not be politically correct. Instead I will only call her a lightweight reporter!” Trump said on Twitter.
He followed up with another post this morning.
“The statement put out yesterday by FoxNews was a disgrace to good broadcasting and journalism. Who would ever say something so nasty & dumb.”
Kelly said on her show Tuesday night that the network would not be altering its moderator line-up.
“The truth is, he doesn’t get to control the media, and while he’s made his position clear about me after that first debate, Roger Ailes made his position clear too,” Kelly said.
Other campaigns were asking Trump’s campaign if they could join the rally he plans to host for the non-profit Wounded Warriors Project charity instead, Lewandowski said this morning on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe.”
“We’ve had calls from many debates — uh, from many of the candidates now who say, ‘Look, why would we participate in the Fox debate as well?’” Lewandowski said.